Government plans to expand higher education through foundation degrees delivered by further education colleges will fail unless colleges are given more autonomy, the Learning and Skills Development Agency has warned.
In a report published this week, the LSDA says there needs to be a clearer vision for the role of further education colleges in higher education than has been provided in the government's higher education white paper.
If colleges are to deliver the increase in higher education participation, their position needs to be strengthened so they can enter into genuine partnerships with higher education institutions, it says. Ultimately, colleges with the strongest provision should be allowed to award their own foundation degrees.
The paper welcomes the government's recognition that colleges should play a key role in delivering expansion through foundation degrees.
But it adds: "To carry out this role, colleges need the certainty of a sustained role and long-term horizon so that they can manage the investment in staff skills and other resources.
"We are not convinced that the proposals (in the white paper) are adequate to secure the stability required to develop the capacity of further education effectively."
Chris Hughes, LSDA chief executive, said: "A critical issue is whether the colleges will be given the autonomy to deliver higher education outside a partnership with a university or other higher education institution."
The paper says that the government's proposals would grant colleges the independence to develop foundation degrees but would then take this away as they would be forced into a franchised funding arrangement with a higher education institution.
The paper says: "We believe that, to develop a strategic role for colleges, the system should move towards more direct funding for those further education colleges that have the capacity to deliver.
"Further education colleges should be able to award their own foundation degrees and seek validation of an award independently of their local university."